TAMPA, Fla. — Jake Rudock mastered more than Organic Chemistry II this fall.
The microbiology and premed major who found time to quarterback the Iowa football team to a berth in Wednesday’s Outback Bowl game against Louisiana State also passed the test as a first-year starter for the Hawkeyes.
“There are times when being smart in the classroom does not always translate into being smart on the field,’’ Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis said Saturday after practice at Tampa Jesuit High School.
This isn’t one of those times.
Rudock has impressed Davis and his teammates with the poise and progress he has made throughout his sophomore season, quarterbacking Iowa to an 8-4 record and across-the-board improvements on offense.
“One of the things that all quarterbacks like is having a lot on their plate and it is fun to give them a lot to deal with as long as they can handle it,’’ Davis said. “Jake has shown an ability to handle it.’’
Heading into the noon game against LSU, Rudock has completed 60.2 percent of the 324 passes he has attempted this season, covering 2,281 yards. He has thrown 18 touchdown passes and has been intercepted 12 times.
Rudock has also benefitted from an improved performance by Iowa’s offensive line, which reduced the number the number of sacks it gave up from 22 in 2012 to 12 this season.
“It’s a collective effort,’’ Rudock said. “Good offense requires 11 people to be on the same page at the same time.’’
Rudock has shown a proficiency in making the right reads and checks to help the Hawkeyes offense work.
That ability helped him win a three-way battle for the starting spot at the beginning of the season and it continues to help Iowa average 389 yards, with Rudock ranking fifth in the Big Ten in total offense while accounting for 208.7 yards per game.
“One of the things we’ve tried to do this year is to take advantage of looks that the defense is giving us,’’ Rudock said. “If I see things on the field and we have the right personnel out there to make something happen, we’re going to check into it. We’ve got so many guys here who can help and the idea is to give them all a chance.’’
Running back Mark Weisman said that is simply the way the game is evolving.
“There are tons of checks out there and you’ve got to know them at every position,’’ Weisman said. “Line, receiver running back, you’ve got to know what it is and broaden your horizons, it’s the game of football.’’
Rudock has completed passes to 18 different receivers this season with seven Hawkeyes having at least a dozen catches.
He expects that type of approach to be necessary as Iowa prepares to face the 15th-rated Tigers in a season which ends close to home for the Hawkeye quarterback from Weston, Fla.
Rudock said the LSU defense has a look of its own.
“They do some different things on third down that we will need to be ready for, they mix it up pretty well,’’ Rudock said. “There are some familiar elements, too. They do some things Big Ten teams do, but they are unique and we have a lot to get ready for the next few days.’’
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Davis said Rudock is showing no lingering impact from the knee sprains which he dealt with during the final weeks of the regular season.
Withheld from most competitive situations during the first two weeks of bowl practices, Rudock said he feels fine.
“We were smart with it back in Iowa City and that is paying off now,’’ Davis said.
Rudock said in many respects LSU presents Iowa with one of its biggest tests of the season.
It’s something he doesn’t mind.
“It’s another challenge and we’ve faced plenty of them this season. They have good talent on the defensive side of the ball, but we’ve gotten used to that,’’ Rudock said.
The Hawkeyes have gotten used to Rudock being behind center as well.
“He’s handled things well,’’ receiver Tevaun Smith said. “He’s kind of like our football, he’s made progress from one week to the next and we have a lot of confidence in Jake.’’
Rudock has confidence in those around him as Iowa prepares for its final test of the season.
“We’re going to need to be at our best on New Year’s Day because we know the people on the other side of the ball will be,’’ Rudock said. “That’s part of the deal.’’